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Louis Napoleon Parker papers, 1869-1943 

Parker, Louis Napoleon, 1852-1944,.
Phys. Desc: 
12.5 linear feet (12.5 linear feet 25 document boxes)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

Louis Napoleon Parker (1852-1944) was a popular and successful mainstream English playwright, producer of historical pageants, and musician, as well as a prolific translator of drama in French and Italian. A contemporary of George Bernard Shaw, Henry Arthur Jones, Arthur Wing Pinero and J.M. Barrie, Parker saw his plays performed by some of the finest actors of his day, including Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and E.S. Willard. His historical pageants were attended by English people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, from the villagers of Warwick to the nobility. Parker, born at Luc-sur-Mer in Calvados, France to an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Moray, and an American, Charles Albert Parker, spent his childhood in several European countries; his first language was Italian, and he spoke, read and wrote in at least French and German as well. At seventeen, his parents sent Parker to the Royal Academy of Music, then under the direction of William Sterndale Bennett. The young man began to distinguish himself as a singer, pianist and organist, and in 1873 he was sent by Bennett to serve at the Sherborne School in Dorset, first as locum tenens to the piano master and then as director of music, a position Parker held until 1892. Parker greatly increased both the musical achievement and the profile of the school, while composing his own music, including three cantatas and a set of school songs for Sherborne. During his time in Sherborne, Parker became an early member of the original Wagner Society, and later served as president of the organization that succeeded it. In 1878 Parker was married to Georgiana Bessie Calder (c.1853-1919), the daughter of a Sherborne merchant; they had two daughters, Elsa (whom Parker nicknamed “Toby”) and Dorothy (whom he called “Tommy”). Dorothy became an actress, starring in the very successful American production of her father's comedy "Pomander Walk". Parker, who began to experience deafness in the early 1890s, left both Sherborne and his music and teaching careers in 1892, though he remained a member of the Royal Academy of Music until the end of his long life. After leaving Sherborne, Parker turned to London and to the theater. He already had some experience as a playwright and also as a translator of European drama; indeed, Parker's 1889 edition of Henrik Ibsen's "Rosmersholm", along with William Archer's series of translations, had helped to introduce Ibsen to the English-speaking world. Though Parker's own plays display nothing like Ibsen's versions of realism, the translation shows the extent to which Parker understood contemporary developments in the theater. Parker's own theatrical career began slowly, but collaborations with Murray Carson (who occasionally used the pseudonym Thornton Clark), including "Gudgeons" (1893) and "Rosemary, That's for Remembrance" (1896) brought him a measure of popularity in both England and the United States. Especially successful were Parker's plays "The Cardinal" (1903)"Disraeli" (1911)"Drake" (1912)"Joseph and his Brethren" (1913), and (with W. W. Jacobs) "Beauty and the Barge" (1904), and "Pomander Walk" (1910). Parker also produced a number of dramatic adaptations of novels and stories, including "David Copperfield (The Highway of Life)""Cyrano de Bergerac", and Jacobs's story "The Monkey's Paw". His translations include plays by Louis Tiercelin, Ludwig Fulda and Edmond Rostand. Many of Parker's plays were successfully staged at His Majesty's Theatre by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, but they often traveled to America, as the programs and reviews in this collection from Boston and New York show. "The Cardinal" received several productions in Italy, as well, and Beauty and the Barge traveled to Germany (as Das Herz auf der Hand). In 1905, Parker created his first historical pageant, at his former home town of Sherborne. At Sherborne, nine hundred participants produced seven performances so successfully that Parker was quickly besieged by requests from other towns. Over the next five years, he created large-scale pageants for Warwick, Bury St. Edmunds, Colchester, York, and Dover. Parker's pageants, usually conducted outdoors and involving a high degree of spectacle, celebrated official English history and values. Indeed, Parker was himself intensely pro-English, and he became a British subject in 1914, just before World War I began. Parker spent many of his later years in Devon. He continued writing, producing the screenplay Nelson for the “talkies” and occasional verse. His play Disraeli, starring George Arliss, was produced as a film in 1936. Parker died at Bishopsteignton, in Devon, on 21 September 1944. Many of Parker's plays were not published, and he did not retain manuscripts after typed copies were made; for this reason, the typescripts and manuscripts included in this collection are often the only known copies of the works. Parker's daughters, and then his grandson, Anthony Parker Tull, used these volumes when administering the literary estate.

Scope and Contents

The Papers include an apparently complete collection of Parker's plays, many of which remain unpublished; most are typescripts bound especially for Parker, though some of the plays are in manuscript, and a very few are unbound. A number of these play scripts are annotated in Parker's hand, and some are bound with programs, newspaper clippings, and, in a few instances, with production photographs. Printed copies of several of Parker's plays are also included. The Papers also contain volumes of Parker's light verse and prose; his correspondence, datebook-style diaries and other personal documents; programs for productions of nearly all of Parker's plays; and newspaper clippings (generally contemporary reviews). The collection is completed by two small series: books owned by Parker, mostly presentation copies, and photographs. The Papers also include a portrait of Parker, in chalk, by Cyril Roberts.